With Ontario’s provincial election well under way, condo boards and managers — or their door staff — are likely to encounter political canvassers requesting access to their buildings, if they haven’t already. What not everyone may be aware of is that, per the Condominium Act, they are required to oblige. If they don’t, they risk facing a hefty fine.
Section 118 of the Act explicitly states: “No corporation or employee or agent of a corporation shall restrict reasonable access to the property by candidates, or their authorized representatives, for election to the House of Commons, the Legislative Assembly or an office in a municipal government or school board if access is necessary for the purpose of canvassing or distributing election material.”
Despite this, anecdotal evidence suggests that canvassers have difficulty getting into some condo buildings.
Holland Marshall, a North York condo owner, recently highlighted the problem in a post on his website, Condo Madness. Marshall confirmed through a conversation with a candidate in the current provincial election that canvassers were having difficulty getting into condo buildings — more so than in apartment buildings.
“You’ll see after this election that not enough people voted; people are not exercising their rights,” he says. “I’m not saying this is a major part of this, but it is a part. If you don’t have canvassers allowed into buildings for the different political parties, you’ve lost that personal touch.”
John Bowker, communications director for the Rosario Marchese campaign, says the incumbent NDP MPP for Trinity-Spadina has likely had the same experience as every other candidate canvassing in condo buildings. He says condo residents and concierges are rightly cautious and protective of their privacy, pointing out that there are rules preventing political activities and solicitation outside of the writ period.
“However, during the writ period, canvassers that have been authorized by candidates have a protected right to canvas residents in condo buildings, co-ops and apartment buildings,” Bowker says. “Unfortunately a lot of people don’t know that, and a lot of concierges don’t know that, but every canvasser that we send out has a copy of the legislation that they can show the concierge and demonstrate that they do have the right to do that.”
Reminding superintendents or property managers of their obligations under the Condominium Act is precisely what canvassers who find themselves in this situation may wish to consider, according to Andrew Willis, communications co-ordinator at Elections Ontario.
“If the building management remains uncooperative, you may wish to escalate the matter to your legal counsel,” he said in an email.
Denise Lash, partner at Aird & Berlis, says that she would also ask those identifying themselves as canvassers to provide proof of their identity and authorization to represent a candidate.
“I would ask for ID, because anyone can show their section of the Act, and the ID should have their authorization,” Lash says. “I think it’s reasonable to ask for that, and if they don’t show it, then you’d be concerned … the safety and security of the residents should be paramount.”
In the case of the Rosario Marchese campaign, canvassers carry a signed authorization form, noting they have been sent by the Ontario NDP and specifying on behalf of which campaign they are working.
If canvassers are authorized to represent a candidate, as set out in the Act, a corporation, employee or agent of the corporation can’t restrict their reasonable access to a condo building for the purpose of canvassing or distributing election material. As for what “reasonable” access entails, Lash surmises that restricting access at a construction zone within a condo building, for safety reasons, would be considered an acceptable limitation to this provision, as an example.
The lawyer isn’t aware of any court proceedings or prosecutions arising from non-compliance with the relevant legislation, but condo corporations may not want to risk testing it.
Section 137 of the Condominium Act stipulates that anyone who knowingly contravenes their obligation under Section 118 of the Act is guilty of an offence and, if convicted, may face a maximum fine of $100,000 for a corporation, and $25,000 for an individual.
The Canada Elections Act, which comes into play during federal elections, also makes specific reference to condo buildings. Section 81 provides that no one in control of a condominium building may prevent a candidate or his representative from canvassing between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Jim Ross, general consultant for David Soknacki’s Toronto mayoral campaign, says in his experience, canvassers can usually convince whoever is manning a condo building’s front desk of their right to access the building.
“Generally speaking, even when people are refusing, they’re refusing politely and they think that they are on the right side of things,” Ross says. “If there was a condo board that knowingly had a policy in violation of the law, I think it might be worth pursuing that, but a misinformed doorman is not someone anyone really has an interest in pursuing legal proceedings against.”
Chris Antipas, president and CEO of 360 Community Management, says that it is a property manager’s responsibility to ensure all of a condo’s building staff and its board of directors are aware of their obligations under the law.
“Maybe a reminder doesn’t hurt every now and then, especially around election time, just to send out a general reminder to the staff,” he says. “We did that very recently. We know that there’s an election coming up and campaigning is starting, and so we sent something like that to all our managers to remind all their staff, or on-site staff, that political canvassers are allowed in the building.”
The June 12 provincial election is near, but with Ontario’s municipal elections taking place this October and a federal election scheduled for spring 2015, condo boards, managers and staff can expect more canvassers to come knocking in the near future.
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.